Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing Half Nelson, which ran on NBC from March to May of 1985. Almost all nine of the show’s episodes can be found on YouTube!
Last week, I took a look at the sixth episode of Half Nelson, which was called Nose Job and which featured Rocky (Joe Pesci) dealing with an obsessed plastic surgeon who was stalking a former girlfriend. That episode featured not only two villains (it turned out that the plastic surgeon wasn’t the only homicidal stalker in Hollywood) but is also ended with Victoria Jackson’s Annie O’Hara starting a romantic relationship with Gary Grubbs’s Detective Hamill.
Nose Job was followed by an episode called Chariots For Hire. It apparently aired on April 26th, 1985 and that’s really all I can tell you about the episode. Chariots For Hire is the only episode of Half Nelson that has not been uploaded to YouTube. I can’t even find a plot summary for it on the imdb. Chariots For Hire is apparently the lost episode of Half Nelson.
Fortunately, the eighth episode of Half Nelson is on YouTube. So, let’s pick up the adventures of Rocky Nelson in Malibu Colony!
Episode 1.8 “Malibu Colony”
(Dir by James Sheldon, originally aired on May 3rd, 1985)
Rocky, Annie, Beau (Dick Butkus), and Kurt (Bubba Smith) have been assigned to guard what Rocky claims is “one of the most valuable art collections in the world.” Fortunately, this job means that they get to spend a few days hanging out in a fabulous beach house in Malibu! Standing out on the deck of the beach house, Annie looks out at the ocean and says that she can hardly believe that China is on the other side of it.
“I wonder how the egg rolls stay fresh crossing over from that far,” Kurt says.
Before anyone can ponder that question for too long, a half-naked woman runs screaming down the beach while being pursued by two thugs in suits. Rocky saves the woman from the thugs and sends her into the beach house so that she can borrow some clothes from Annie. Once dressed, the woman explains that she’s Nancy Norton (Shari Shattuck) and that she was fleeing from a nearby yacht club. She claims that the owner of the club has some naked pictures of her and she needs to get them back. Rocky, deciding that the art can protect itself, helps Nancy sneak back into the club so that she can retrieve her photographs. However, when she sees the club’s president, Crane (John Beck), she suddenly holds up a gun and shoots at him. Rocky is able to push Crane out of the way of the bullets and then he chases after Nancy.
Fortunately, both Rocky and Nancy make it out of the club without anyone realizing that they’re together. Despite the fact that she nearly made him an accessory to murder, Rocky still wants to help Nancy. Nancy explains that there are no pictures and she wasn’t trying to kill Crane. (“I just wanted to scare him.”) Nancy’s father lost a lot of money while playing poker with Crane and now Crane is threatening to kill him if he doesn’t pay. But Nancy is convinced that the poker game was rigged. The reason she was in club earlier was to take a look at Crane’s cards.
(For some reason, she thought it would be smart to do that while wearing a bikini, the top of which was somehow lost while she was fleeing Crane’s guards. That explains that partial nudity, which I am sure was definitely viewed as being important to the plot and not just as an attempt to boost the show’s ratings.)
Having saved Crane’s life, Rocky is able to get Annie, Kurt, and Beau jobs at the club. Annie models clothes. Kurt and Beau work as waiters. Rocky’s boss, Chester (Fred Williamson), shows up at the club with Dean Martin and is shocked to see all of his employees working there. Dean demands that Chester give them all raises so that they can quit their second jobs.
Eventually, Rocky finds his proof that Crane is a criminal and, with Chester’s help, he takes Crane down. After being stuck in the office for the past few episodes, Chester actually gets to do something in this episode. It’s always nice to see Fred Williamson in action and making it even better is that he smokes a big cigar while he’s taking down the bad guys. Finally, after eight episodes, Half Nelson reminded everyone of why Fred Williamson was so cool to begin with.
This episode definitely earns some points for allowing the entire supporting cast — from Fred Williamson to Victoria Jackson to Dean Martin — to play a role in solving the case of the week. One of Half Nelson‘s biggest flaws was that the appealingly quirky supporting characters often felt underused and Malibu Colony finally gives them a chance to show what they could have done as an ensemble. The mix of Pesci’s wise guy nerve, Jackson’s spaciness, Williamson’s effortless coolness, and Butkus and Smith’s comedic relief is actually pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, as good as the heroes are, Crane is pretty boring villain and the case of the week isn’t particularly interesting. In particular, Nancy’s actions never really make that much sense.
Oh well. This was a flawed episode but it still offered up a hint of what Half Nelson could have been. Next week, I will be reviewing this show’s final episode. Until then, L.A. — you belong to me!
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I will be sad when Rocky is gone
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